On Other People’s Bookshelves

During the past few months, a clever oblong book entitled My Ideal Bookshelf has been widely covered in the media. Each two-page spread contains a brief essay about books and reading by a cultural somebody, and a painting of that person’s favorite books arranged as they might appear arranged on a shelf (in fact, not one of the painted arrangements includes an actual bookshelf).

Browsing the groupings of favorite books, I did what I always do. I took some notes, and made a list of books I would like to read someday.

I have wandered through a vast number of books about food and cooking, but so far, I have not taken on Larousse Gastronomique. So, thank you to chef and cookbook author Hugh Acheson for that reminder, and to chef Thomas Keller for suggesting the same book.

From author Junot Díaz, a recommendation for Divided Planet: The Ecology of Rich and Poor.

apatow_bookshelfJudd Apatow, famous for his comedy movies, surprised me with James Agee’s A Death in the Family, and reminded me of a popular book about comedians that I wanted to read, but never did: The Last Laugh.

I was happy to see Dave Eggers highlight Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, a story about American slavery that I finished this winter, and now look forward to reading Denis Johnson’s book, Jesus’ Son which is “short, funny and impossibly lyrical…a book nobody doesn’t like.”

It was fun to see some of my all-time favorites, especially the obscure ones, on other people’s shelves: Chuck Klosterman likes Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and Rudy Rucker’s The Fourth Dimension, and designer David Kelley likes The Care and Feeding of Ideas by Adams and the compendium, An Incomplete Education, and I do, too.

franco_bookshelfJames Franco wins for the most cluttered bookshelf, also the one with the most books. From his stacks, I think I will pick up another set of Raymond Carver stories, and the original scroll version of Kerouac’s On The Road. I suppose I should read Melville’s Moby Dick, which I have avoided so far for no good reason. Ditto for writer Philip Gourevitch’s suggested A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

I am among the many who believes Professor Lawrence Lessig to be brilliant, so I was anxious to explore his bookshelf. Mostly, it was the scholarly law stuff that appealed to me, but it was encouraging to see Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash sitting just below The Federalist Papers. 

Writer / designer / photographer Ben Schott included Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, but I think I will listen to Richard Burton on the BBC rather than reading it in book form. Patti Smith reminded me that I have not gotten my copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems, 1947-1980. Editor Lorin Stein’s list includes Chuck Amuck by Warner Brothers animation director Chuck Jones, which I know I will enjoy.

It was interesting to see one of my architectural favorites, A Pattern Language, on chef Alice Waters’s list, and I suspect we both found it by browsing the same source, years ago, The Whole Earth Catalog. Pretty much, I want to read her entire bookshelf, from M.F.K. Fisher’s Consider the Oyster to Maria Montessori’s The Secret of Childhood.


Rosanne Cash’s mix of E.B. White, Mallory and The War of Art (another of my favorites, it’s way over on the left), and Tennyson and Solzhenitsyn was among the most intriguing collections.

Finally: good for William Wegman for including not only two Hardy Boys novels, but also bits of the World Book encyclopedia, The Golden Book Encyclopedia, and Girl Scout Badges and Signs.

I was very pleased, and felt very smart, when I saw so many of my personal favorites on other people’s shelves. And, I felt woefully illiterate when I realized just how many of the books–sometimes, whole bookshelves–with both authors and titles that were completely unfamiliar to me.

(So many books. So little time.)

%d bloggers like this: